May 19, 2014 at 12:37 PM
WESTFIELD, NJ — Since the Lions Club was founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1917, it has had a long tradition of helping those in need. Assisting the blind and visually impaired was added to their mission in 1925 when Helen Keller spoke at the Lions Club International convention in Cedar Point, Ohio, and issued the group a challenge to also become “The Knights of the Blind.” Additionally, they have made efforts to feed the hungry, aid senior citizens and the disabled and to help the environment.
Here in Westfield, this tradition of community service has been upheld by the Westfield Lions Club. The club hosts events, such as their annual street clean-up, which mobilizes the community to pick up litter along Central Avenue. Its “Lions Quest” program for middle school students promotes self-esteem and works to prevent substance abuse. And the club supports the Lions Eye Bank of NJ, which supplies a large percentage of New Jersey’s corneal transplant needs.
Doug Schembs, the Westfield club’s secretary and a District Governor and Council Chairman, joined in 1986.
“I felt I had a lot to offer, and I wanted to give something back to the community,” says Schembs.
Schembs first met with the Westfield Lions Club at the Mountainside Inn on Route 22 (now a Japanese steakhouse), which had been its official meeting place in 1931. The first event he participated in was the annual Easter egg hunt, which continues to this day.
“It was such a great experience, seeing the smiles on the children’s faces,” recalled Schembs. “I knew then that the Lions Club was where I belonged.”
Mike Gordeuk serves as the chairman of the Easter egg hunt. Before joining the club in 1985, Gordeuk recalls spending a majority of his time partying with his friends. He decided it was time for him to finally do something more useful for the community.
“You’re not looking for a pat on your back, but it makes you feel good,” said Gordeuk.
Gordeuk also appreciates how the club brings together people from all different walks of life.
“You have people as wealthy as Donald Trump joining the club and then you have the garbage man,” says Gordeuk. “It’s truly a wonderful thing.”
Another longtime member is Club Director Jeff Broadwell, who joined in 1995. He explained that he owes his dedication to the group to members like Schembs and Gordeuk, who acted as mentors to him.
“They’re the ones who showed me the ropes,” said Broadwell. “They’ve been in it longer than I have and I’ve learned a lot from them.”
The long existence of the Westfield Lions Club and the sense of unity among its members provide a strong presence in the community. Members adhere to the motto of the Lions: “We serve.”
The Westfield Lions club meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month at Café Vivace, 1370 South Ave., in Plainfield. For more information, call 908-654-3643 or visit http://westfieldnj.com/lions/.
The reporter wrote this story as part of a journalism partnership with Kean University.